If there’s one district that’ll lure you away from the cobbles of the Old Town, it’s Krakow’s Jewish quarter. The Kazimierz is gradually building itself back up after the horrors and tragedies that took place here in WWII. Regeneration has been helped along after the district’s appearance on the silver screen. But it’s the cosy bars, restaurants and rustic market stalls that keep visitors and locals coming back. Expect a warm welcome in this nook of Krakow nestling on the banks of the Vistula River.
History of the Kazimierz
Back in the 1335 century, the new city of Kazimierz was THE place to be. Wealthy, powerful and attractive to anyone looking to start a new life. As tension grew in the 15th century, neighbouring Krakow forced the Jewish community to move over the river to the Kazimierz. Building schools, synagogues and businesses, the area continued to flourish for a time. Though, the plague, famine, invasion and floods that followed ravaged the city. Diminished and deserted, it wasn’t until 1800 that Kazimierz started to rebuild under Austrian rule. The redeveloped streets were absorbed into Krakow and the city forced its Jewish community to once again move to the Kazimierz.
Life was good, art, culture and community thrived – until the Nazi occupation of Krakow. In WWII, 32,000 Jews were moved to the nearby ghetto of Podgórze. Of those, only around 4,000 survived, some saved by Oskar Schindler. Who is, in part, responsible for today’s regeneration of the area. Spielberg filmed much of Schindler’s List in the Kazimierz and renewed interest from tourism has seen the Jewish quarter of Krakow revamped to proudly show the world its cultural and historic significance.
Dawno temu na Kazimierzu
If you’re coming to the Jewish quarter for a stroll into the past, book a table at Dawno temu na Kazimierzu. Serving traditional Polish and Jewish recipes side by side, the entire ethos at this restaurant is to take you back to the pre-WWII era, when the Jewish people in the Kazimierz sat side by side with their Polish friends in Krakow and enjoyed a simple meal. Mouthwatering cholent, pierogis and kalahora are only part of the story. Memorabilia starts on the pavement and continues to the tables you dine at. Immersive, but never once straying into kitsch or tacky territory, the restaurant name translates as ‘Once upon a time In Kazimierz’ which couldn’t be more apt.
Kolanko No. 6
It can be hard to pin down Kolanko No. 6’s vibe. At times, it’s a casual spot to browse the buffet and pile your plate high with Polish favourites. Though, international recipes pepper the menu too – from hefty slabs of moussaka to steaming bowls of butter chicken and rice. Then Kolanko break out the organic veggies from their local farm and it puts you in agritourism territory you just weren’t expecting from this little nook in the Kazimierz. What soon becomes clear is that, whatever’s on the menu, they want everyone to leave well fed. And, they always succeed.
Google ‘bars in the former Jewish quarter of Krakow’ and you’ll quickly land on Hevre. A cracking spot for a drink – a point on which everyone agrees. But it’s hardly inside intel. So do pop in, but also give Wino Metal a visit. A newcomer to the Kazimierz, it’s owned and run by the Hevre team. Here the focus is on wine with a helping hand from a charming backstory. Hevre took over the space when their favourite neighbour, Mr. Wiesiu, left after 40 years of tinkering with metal. Today, the industrial decor mixes with high tech wine storage. A space to enjoy a glass with the Kazmierz vibes that makes this district so special.
Bars the world over would love to replicate Artefakt Cafe’s popularity. On the face of it, the mismatched furniture, book-lined shelves and tiny drinks menu all point towards a bar you might skip. In reality, the plump sofas in the gig space are full night after night, the craft beers are well patronised – thanks to an ever–changing keg menu, and the gallery walls attract artists looking for a hipster venue in which to display their art. Live music downstairs, board games and nachos upstairs. Simple, welcoming and you might find yourself buying an original painting.
Things to do in the Jewish Quarter
Browse the stalls in Plac Nowy
This market stall is much more than a place to tuck into a whopping zapiekanki. As tempted as you’ll be by the baguette/pizza fusions, save the snack for when you’re done browsing the stalls. It might not be as impressive as Rynek Glowny’s main square, but you’re here for the crafts, antiques, clothes, sweets and… sometimes, rabbits and pigeons. Each day varies, but the golden rule is to arrive early. Some markets finish well before lunch.
Admire the street art
Add a tour of Kazimierz’s street art to your things to do in Krakow list. The murals and slogans aren’t limited to the Kazimierz area, but the art you’ll find here tends to depict the region’s Jewish history. Adding another layer to this complex district’s appeal, the huge mural’s add insight to life in the former Jewish quarter, pre and post-war.
Explore Jewish culture at the Galicia Jewish Museum
First and foremost, the Galicia Jewish Museum commemorates the Holocaust victims. But it also celebrates the Polish Galicia culture and provides a place to learn more from the archives. The photography collection can, at times, be harrowing. Documenting the period to reflect the horrors that took place, while responsibly honouring those that died is a hard task – and one that this museum does extremely well.
Step back in time via the area’s churches and synagogues
Time seems to truly stand still in religious buildings. Those that make it through centuries of war, floods, fires and anything else the world challenges with, tend to preserve their architecture and interiors. In the Kazimierz, drop into the Church of Corpus Christi for the resplendent gilt, gothic and baroque stylings. Then visit the pared back Remuh Synagogue to see two hugely contrasting approaches to prayer and worship.